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Understanding graziers change to more sustainable grazing practices in the tropical savanna rangelands of North Queensland

Project start date: 01 January 2008
Project end date: 30 June 2012
Publication date: 01 March 2012
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Grassfed cattle, Grainfed cattle
Relevant regions: Sub-tropical moist
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Understanding aspects and processes that influence beef producers to increase their adoption of more sustainable practices is as urgent as ever.

Achieving sustainability remains an important issue to industry, communities and beef producers as uncertainty surrounding the capacity of natural resources to maintain goods and services into the future mounts. This uncertainty has increased in more recent times with factors such as climate change, fossil fuel reduction and community concern for animal welfare. Knowledge of the factors and processes that inhibit and facilitate beef producers sustainability has been well researched over the last couple of decades. There has, however, been less attention focused on understanding key aspects of learning and self-identity. 

The main aim of this thesis was to increase understanding of learning and self-identity, as it relates to roles in life and sense of place, in the context of sustainability and extensive beef grazing systems. Increased understanding of these dimensions through this research hopes to inform the development of industry-wide strategies that enhance learning and nurture aspects that are critical to producers well-being while at the same time being socially acceptable and effective in achieving sustainability. To achieve the aims of the research, a mixed-method case study, of 28 face-to-face interviews followed by 91 telephone surveys, was conducted in the beef industry of north-eastern Queensland. 


The research had four main objectives: 

  1. develop a framework that characterises learning that fosters sustainability and identify important criteria involved in the learning process 
  2. describe the process and outcomes of beef producers learning in relation to changing practices to improve land condition 
  3. describe the range and depth of beef producers self-identity, as it relates to their roles in life and relationship to place and occupation, and 
  4. identify how beef producers self-perceived roles and relationship to place and occupation may influence their sustainability. 

This research developed a framework of learning that fosters change towards sustainability. It integrates dimensions, motivations and processes of individuals learning and is embedded in social learning processes. The framework was used to analyse beef producers learning to improve land condition. Results revealed that most beef producers were motivated to learn due to perceived problems with existing practices, and described mainly learning new skills and techniques to improve production. Main learning sources for producers were their own experiences, observing others practices and sharing experiences with peers and family members. Organised collective learning, experiencing adversity, and active experimentation with natural resource management skills and techniques were key aspects that facilitated critical reflections of practices, questioning the self and cultural norms, and an enhanced sense of environmental responsibility. 

Key findings

The research found that beef producers self-identity showed signs of more and less traditional characteristics. Producers described a range of more or less traditional roles in their everyday life. Traditional cultural norms and values, such as gender expectations of roles, appear to still be a strong influence on producers self-perceptions. Producers who also identified with less traditional roles in life, such as resource condition monitor and workshop participant, had a desire to re-label themselves to less production-oriented titles and were involved in equal decision-making with their partner in relation to the business and natural resource management. Results also revealed that beef producers with a long, ancestral and lived connection with the family property had a strong place attachment. This attachment was based on feeling a strong sense of belonging to the property and/or being attracted to lifestyle, occupational and business innovation aspects of the operation. 

Results of the research further revealed that, the less traditional were beef producers sense of place and self-perceptions, the more likely they were to favour beliefs aligned with sustainability. Producers who identified with less traditional roles and domestic and administrative roles were likely to favour beliefs that supported nature conservation, learning and/or adapting to change. Producers who identified strongly with domestic, administration and labouring roles were likely to be worried about adverse climatic and economic changes. Producers who felt a strong sense of belonging to the property and who were attracted to the business side of the operation were more likely to have an interest in learning and adapting to change than producers attached to the lifestyle and occupation of cattle grazing.

Implications from this research for policy include:

  1. there are likely to be a diversity of responses to planned interventions: some interventions may appeal to some producers more than others depending on their self-identity, relationship to their place and occupation; 
  2. a learning based approach to problem solving could be especially effective; in particular, learning that is participatory, collaborative, and involves all stakeholders and critical reflection.

More information

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Primary researcher: CSIRO Division of Sustainable Eco